What I am reading these days (a lot of history!)

I asked for a bunch of history books for Christmas (in addition to the world’s coolest garden hose) and received quite a haul.

My favorite periods of history are the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. I already had the Landmark Thucydides, but wanted the entire collection. So my husband gave me the Landmark Herodotus, Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika, Landmark Arrian Campaigns of Alexander, and my in-laws gave me the Landmark Julius Caesar. These are going to keep me busy for a while! I love having resources like this around the house for when Elise gets older too.

Before the holidays, I started two books that I would highly recommend. The first is Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. The second is Philip Matyszak’s Sparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation.

(I love Sparta and stories about Sparta. When I was younger and in far better shape, I used to participate in endurance sports, especially running. I’d have my husband drop me off in a nearby town with a CamelBak of Powerade and a credit card in case I needed food, and I would then spend all day running back home. No joke, it was nuts. Anyway, we had many inside jokes about Sparta during those days. When we were buying a new house, we had a meet-and-greet with our real estate agent, who asked in a very chipper voice, “And what kind of neighborhood do see as your ideal place to live? I just want a vision of what you are going for.” To which my husband replied, “Her ideal neighborhood is ancient Sparta. Do you have any properties there?” I can only imagine what personality category our realtor put us into.)

My husband also gave me Cicero’s On Living and Dying Well.

I recently read an outstanding biography on Cicero by Anthony Everitt, Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician. I would highly recommend it in general, but particularly to any cultural conservatives out there who are worried about how our social institutions are going to hell. Cicero experienced many similar events during the Roman civil wars that played out during his boyhood. He retreated to his family’s country home and spent all of his time preparing himself for a political career once life in the city sorted itself out. He studied history, the law, and rhetoric intensely and avoided getting into trouble with the increasingly mad crowds. This strategy served him very well, obviously.

One of my all-time favorite writers is Plutarch. I have been working my way through Plutarch’s Essays lately (see my earlier post, Do you hear what I hear?) My husband gave me copies of Plutarch’s Makers of Rome, Rome in Crisis, The Age of Alexander, and On Sparta. I really love the Penguin Classics editions of these books, as the translation is very clear and enjoyable, as Plutarch was meant to be read.

Also in the stack is the Complete Sophocles, Volume I and Volume II.

Somewhat related to all of this, I find it incredible the books that public libraries are getting rid of these days. Our library here has a bookshelf in the foyer of books that anyone can take and keep for free, as many as you like. I have found the most unbelievable books there. And it’s not like the library is throwing most of them out because they already have the books on their shelves and do not want duplicates (though that is certainly the case for some of them). They simply don’t want to keep them on their shelves.

I picked up five books from Harvard University Press’ series on antiquity, Early Greece, The Hellenistic World, Democracy in Classical Greece, The Roman Republic, and the Later Roman Empire. I also found hardback copies of Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (part of Oxford University Press’ incredible History of the United States series) and Edmund Morris’ Theodore Rex. And a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. And The Penguin Opera Guide, M. Owen Lee’s The Operagoer’s Guide: One Hundred Stories and Commentaries, and The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia. I plan to use those books for a homeschooling unit on opera at some point.

The library was throwing out all of those extraordinary books. I don’t know what to think about what is happening at public libraries these days, to be honest. They exist to serve the interests of taxpayers and to provide a place for the community to gather. If ordinary people are legitimately uninterested in reading content like this, maybe libraries should stuff their shelves with mindless crap that they do want to read. At least they are keeping people basically literate, right?

I do sort of fear, however, that we are watching a new battleground in the culture wars play out. Many professional associations of librarians have been taken over by left-wing political activists (just take a look at what they are posting on their Twitter pages, and the fact that some libraries now host events like Drag Queen Story Hour). The children’s library where we lived before moving to Florida was unusable, as the shelves were fully stocked with identity politics-oriented fare instead of quality children’s non-fiction. (I’ve always found it amusing that books written by political actors tend to be written at an early elementary reading level. There is quite seriously nothing to be gained from consuming such nonsense, except perhaps some bizarre emotional catharsis.) So perhaps that is what I am seeing here, too, such that Harvard’s series on Ancient Greece and Rome is destined for the dumpster. If so, what a shame.

At any rate, if you are looking for a way to build your personal library on the cheap, I highly recommend checking out what your local library is tossing. There are some treasures in there.

As our DD7 is going to be studying American history in the upcoming academic year, I thought I would get back into American history for a while.

I like for my own pleasure reading to overlap with what she is studying. It helps me to make our lessons more interesting if I have engaging stories and digressions from the period to share with her that are not in her own books. A sort of educational synergy if you will. It also sends the message to her that I am not being compelled to study this topic, but I am still delighted to learn about it and find it fascinating. It reinforces the notion that education is not something with a state-mandated beginning and end, but the project of a lifetime.

(For more observations along those lines, see my earlier post, Modeling being a lifelong learner for your children.)

To that end, I am going to be reading soon Down the Santa Fe trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin 1846-1847 and Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West.

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